Sex trafficker targets the girl next door into a dark illicit world

In the light of day, hidden in plain sight, is a dark illicit world. Invisible chains bind its victims.

Sex trafficking victims are often lured into danger by cunning criminals. Many times it happens a lot closer to home than many think.

A Southwest Florida survivor that we are calling Sara, walks us through the twisted grooming process. Sara was a college student living in a happy household. She never thought it would happen to her. We disguised her identity and voice protect her privacy in the video above.

Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to get their victims to engage in commercial sex acts or forced labor.

Sara said she never endured childhood trauma.

“What I went through, was my trauma,” Sara said, “and I didn’t even know what was happening.”

It started with a night of drinks with girlfriends at a local nightclub. Sara was 21 when she met a man she thought was friendly and seemed cool.

They exchanged numbers and started dating. She said he would text her loving messages, “good morning” and “good night,” like clockwork, and was always around. Soon he started showing up at her workplace — a lot. While some may take that as a red flag, Sara thought it was endearing. Within a month they were moving in together.

The relationship took a sharp turn when he told her about an online ad for a bikini modeling job.

He pushed Sara to apply.

“I was like no, you’re crazy, I’m not doing that,” Sara said, “and that’s when the roles changed.”

“He’s like, ‘I’m giving you all this attention and you can’t do this for me just one time?” Sarah recalls.

Sara said his manipulation escalated. Instead of the constant attention she was used to, he took it away and distanced himself from her, leading Sara to crave it.

Sara gave in and called about the modeling gig. Her boyfriend dropped her off at a hotel for the interview, but they were not hiring models. Sara said she was sexually assaulted during the phony interview and her boyfriend’s reaction left her numb.

“He was like, ‘Did you have sex with him?’ I remember just looking at him, shocked,” Sara recalls. “He said, ‘Well if you did, I’m not mad. It’s part of the job.’”

He had been in on it all along — and made her think she was, too. Sara was in shock, unsure how it all happened. For nine months, she said he trafficked her for sex from Naples to Tampa, Orlando, Miami and back again. Night after night, he pretended she had all the power.

“You should feel good about yourself,” Sara said he told her. “You’re the money-maker in this relationship.”

But he was pulling all the strings.

At this point, Sara had dropped out of school and quit a job that she loved. She told him she wanted to go home. That was when he started giving her ecstasy.

After he also coerced her into committing crimes, they both ended up in jail on non-violent felony charges.

“When I got arrested that was my freedom,” Sara said. “I was able to get away.”

Since then, much brighter days have been on the horizon. When she met Linda Oberhaus, CEO of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, Sara realized she was the unwitting victim of a trafficker and they are experts at manipulation.

“They’ve provided food, clothing, shelter, [and they may have] gotten the victim addicted to drugs,” Oberhaus said, “because the trafficker has met so many of their needs that if their needs are not met, they’ll be prone to going back.”

As for Sara, her trafficker ended up passing away, never to haunt her again. She is now in a happy, healthy relationship and has a great job. She said no one would ever guess this happened to her.

But she knows others are not so lucky.

“If the signs are there, if your story is anything like mine,” Sara said, “you might be in trouble.”

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If you or someone you know may be a victim of sex trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Author: Special Projects Reporter Teri Evans / Online Story Written by Michael Mora
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